Like drum 'n' bass, ambient is a genre which relies on making a little go a very long way; the resultant glut of weedy minimalist pastiches barely bears a cursory listen for the most part, but this collaboration between Harold Budd and Hector Zazou demonstrates better than any recent offering how the spaces between the sounds can be made pregnant with possibility. On "Pandas in Tandem", the ghost of Erik Satie treads lightly over a shuffle breakbeat; the result is fragile and crystalline, as tentatively pristine as snowflakes. Elsewhere, heavy rhythmic breathing carries "Around the Corner from Everywhere"; slivers of what sounds like hammered dulcimer undulate through "Johnny Cake", and clarinets collude conspiratorially on "As Fast as I Could Look Away She was Still There".
The 1978 recording debut from reformed avant-garde composer and eventual ambient forerunner Harold Budd consists of four chamber works (written between 1972 and 1975) that use varying combinations of harp, mallet instruments, piano, saxophone, and female or male vocals. Two years before his fateful first studio collaboration with Brian Eno (who produced this album), Budd was creating hypnotic music in an acoustic mode. All of the works herein–including "Two Rooms," whose latter half is an adaptation of John Coltrane's "After the Rain"–sustain a similarly dreamy vibe. An important credo for Budd was to make music as pretty as possible as an antidote to the noisy avant-garde he had escaped from. One cannot fault him for the lovely sounds he creates here, although fans familiar with his more cinematic works might be caught off-guard. Regardless, the pleasant Pavilion of Dreams provides insight into Budd's past, and it offers the same somniferous effect as a gentle lullaby, making it perfect for late-evening listening.
Harold Budd's discs tend to end up in the new age section of the record store, because his music is generally pleasant, quiet, and soothing. But where most new age composers go for the obvious (and sometimes saccharine) melody, Budd veers off into ambiguity; he also lacks the mystical bent that often goes along with the new age style. Instead, his compositional voice is more like that of a detached observer – one who creates beauty without getting too involved with it. By the Dawn's Early Light finds Budd writing for various combinations of viola, guitar, harp, and keyboards. All of the music is lovely, but not all of the compositions sound complete. In several cases, they sound like raw ideas rushed into the studio before their time. Guitarist Bill Nelson provides much of the interest throughout the album, and the sighing, slithery viola of Mabel Wong lends an occasional turn-of-the-century salon feel to the proceedings. The only really embarrassing moments occur when Budd – whose voice sounds like an unfortunate cross between Garrison Keillor and Kermit the Frog – reads his own poetry. Skip those tracks and you'll be fine.
The phrase 'Lovely Thunder' suggests a beautiful sound with an undertone of menace. One need go no farther than "Gypsy Violin," the last song and centerpiece of the album Lovely Thunder, to hear how Harold Budd takes the phrase and forges a musical equivalent. Underneath the plaintive melody of the synthesized violin and an occasional foghorn-reminiscent bass note lies a bed of synth chords that are present throughout, sometimes adding notes, sometimes dropping them, sometimes moving a chord up or down a key and into dissonance with the rest. The overall result is an undulating base that never quite lets the listener settle onto firm ground, giving the song a distinct edge. Drones do figure prominently as a musical base for many of the album's other songs, yet the music is generally more akin to the reverberated keyboard treatments Budd utilized to stunning effect on his two collaborations with Brian Eno. Those looking to explore beyond The Plateux of Mirror and The Pearl would do well to give this album a listen, as they will most likely be both challenged and satisfied.
Anthology box set containing 7 hard-to-find and critically acclaimed albums, released on labels such as Cantil, Opal and All Saints. The box includes: ‘The Serpent (In Quicksilver)’ (1981), 'Abandoned Cities’ (1984), ‘The White Arcades’ (1987), ‘By The Dawn’s Early Light’ (1991), ‘Music For 3 Pianos’ (1992) ‘Through The Hill’ (1994, with Andy Partridge of XTC), ‘Luxa’ (1996). What can you say about ambient music? It's quiet … It's ethereal … It's meditative … It's minimal … It's passive … but it's also important! And Harold Budd is - in my opinion - right up there with Brian Eno when it comes to this particular genre of musical fields. I don't know who thought up the idea of releasing a boxed set of Harold Budd material, but God love you for doing it!! This is a true "must-have" for any Budd enthusiast who likes beautiful background music playing low while working on the computer (either at home or at work) or for also doing what I consider "low-noise household chores."
Hearing Budd's piano slowly fade in with the start of "Late October" is just one of those perfect moments – it's something very distinctly him, made even more so with Eno's touches and slight echo, and it signals the start of a fine album indeed. Acting in some respects as the understandable counterpart to Ambient 2, with the same sense of hushed, ethereal beauty the partnership brought forth on that album, The Pearl is so ridiculously good it instantly shows up much of the mainstream new age as the gloopy schlock that it often is. Eno himself is sensed as a performer on the album, if not by his absence then by his very understated presence.
The second in Brian Eno's ambient series, The Plateaux of Mirrors fuses the fragile piano melodies of Harold Budd and the atmospheric electronics of Eno to create a lovely, evocative work. In sharp contrast to the exaggerated pieces found on his debut, The Pavilion of Dreams, this record finds Budd delivering sharp shards of piano notes pregnant with meaning and minimal in the best sense of the word. Eno's unobtrusive electronics add a resonance and atmosphere that draw from the ambient textures found on Discreet Music, Music for Films, and Evening Star.